Children in detention centre decide to stay locked up over Christmas

Homelessness, addiction and violence mean many decline temporary release

Oberstown Children’s Detention Centre. Photograph: Iain White/Fennell Photography

Oberstown Children’s Detention Centre. Photograph: Iain White/Fennell Photography


Most children who have permission to go home for Christmas from the State’s only youth detention centre decide to stay locked up instead.

Homelessness, addiction and domestic violence mean many children don’t take up offers of temporary release from the Oberstown Children Detention Campus in north Co Dublin.

This year about nine of the 27 children serving sentences are eligible to leave the facility over Christmas. However only three are going to take up the offer. Another 14 children are there on remand awaiting trial and are not eligible for temporary release.

“You’d imagine most people would want to [go home] but it’s complicated because of their individual needs,” the facility’s director Ben Bergin told The Irish Times.

“They know better than anyone what is going on with their families and they might say ‘You know what, I don’t want to be stuck in the middle of chaos’.”

At risk

Some are at risk of homelessness while others were in the care of the State before entering Oberstown.

“If they were to leave here tomorrow morning they’d be going back into a care-type situation. So there would be no significant difference for them,” Mr Bergin said.

“Other young people may be concerned with offending and how they’d manage out of here.”

Oberstown attempts to make Christmas as normal as possible for its residents, deputy director Lena Timoney said. There are games and movies and staff bring in presents for the young people.

State care

Families are encouraged to visit but some children receive no visits because they are in State care or their parents live too far away, she said. Others have parents who are in prison and video-link visits are used so they can stay in touch.

“For a lot of our young people Christmas might have a very different meaning than it does for the rest of us. They may have a very negative experience at Christmas. We want to give them some good memories and show it can be an enjoyable time,” Ms Timoney said.

Over half of the children who passed though Oberstown in the first part of last year had lost at least one parent through death, imprisonment or long-term separation.